From the very first scene, dominated by a cool voiceover accompanied by fragments of the crucial penultimate sequence that we’ll come to understand much later, it was somehow obvious to me I was about to see something out of the ordinary. It would probably sound like baloney if I said I knew right away Alex Morsanutto’s film was remarkable: this is, after all, a judgment that is authentic and credible only after a day or two, when thoughts settle down and impressions sink in. But Hi-Glow Retro is just that: a remarkable film. How else can I label a 14-minute short film that leaves me desperately wanting for more? Never a fan of sensationalism, always the tireless critic of the click-bait (lack of) culture and “you’ll never believe how good this is” headlines, I’m not one of those people who find delight in literally every decent film that doesn’t insult my intelligence. A few days having passed since I first saw the film, I gathered my notes and went to see it again. Every remark still valid, every single comment still applicable. Yes, it seems Morsanutto has made a truly great little film.
A classic socially awkward geeky high school student called Tommy is invited to a big, seventies-themed dance by a popular hot girl he obviously likes. “If you come, I promise I’ll dance with you,” she says, and the spark in the nerd’s eyes says it all: he can overcome his acute shyness, he can swallow all the inevitable discomfort. Hell, he can move mountains if that means he’ll get to dance with the girl! But with his two left feet, he’s skilled at dancing as much as the author of these lines and therefore in heavy need of assistance. Turning for guidance to Beth, his snappy coworker at a local diner, Tommy embarks on a two-week journey of mastering disco dance moves. With the “Hi-Glow Retro” dance coming up, the tension rises and we witness his internal struggle: will he, for once in his life, jump out of his lonely comfort zone to impress the girl of his dreams?
Hi-Glow Retro was made by a man who has clearly mastered his storytelling technique, as the film is a concise, smooth and easy-to-follow story with a clearly developed sense of time and space. A part of the credit for this has to be given to Morsanutto’s editor Carlos Zozaya, and with its clever, fast montages, animated sequences, fast pace and commendable devotion to the “show, don’t tell” practice, it seems to me Hi-Glow Retro actually profited from the lack of time and funds. According to the filmmaker, a lot of adjustments had to be made, the vision needed altering and the film somehow turned into an organic being, growing into unexpected directions simply because it had to adhere to financial conditions of the production. It was at the same time very amusing and inspirational for me to read that Morsanutto bought the entire wardrobe for the cast on a credit card, just to return it to the store when the shooting was over. (See the excellent piece on No Film School.) By handling a relatively small project so well and producing such enjoyable, humorous and stylish results, I just have to wonder what kind of a treat this filmmaker could deliver with a full feature and hope my curiosity is satisfied soon enough.
The main burden of the story lies on the shoulders of Bryan Burton, the actor who plays Tommy. Whether we’re talking about that quirky, childish smile when he placed his hands on Beth’s hips during one of the dancing lessons, the moment of real discomfort when faced with the rather simple challenge of guessing the theme of the dance, or even that honest look of exhaustion, irritation and “fuck-my-lifeish” resignation when being hit with a paper ball by a couple of typically moronic jocks, Burton is a great actor and a perfect fit for the central role, who finds his great and charming partner in Jessica Cadden Osborne in the shoes of Beth, the experienced and fearless yang to his self-conscious yin.
This energetic, wonderfully cast, fast-paced, feel-great 70s disco romantic comedy is a must-watch and I really keep my fingers crossed that the successful festival circuit, delighted comments from the viewers and even perhaps our little recommendation here at C&B might give Morsanutto the chance at a feature film he clearly deserves.
Alex Morsanutto, the writer/director of Hi-Glow Retro, is an award-winning filmmaker who creates films, commercials and music videos. He perfected his craft working for such clients as Kiehl’s, CBS, Chevrolet and Kona Brewing Company, as well as small family restaurants like Remo’s Pizzeria. Before dedicating himself to filmmaking, Alex pursued a career in journalism working for ABC News. He graduated from NYU Tisch with high honors, double-majoring in film/TV production & journalism. Even though he moved on to mostly fictional narrative stories, the desire to explore humanity and unique stories is still very much alive in him. He’s currently in the process of adapting Hi-Glow Retro into a feature film.
To hand over the spotlight to Alex himself:
This short film was always meant to be a proof of concept for a feature film of the same name. The idea was always, ‘If you like this, wait to see you what we have coming next.’ Having made the short film already, we have a big advantage in making the feature film, we learned from our mistakes and this time around it will be even better. With the short film, I was fortunate to have the support of collaborators Joe Walker, Sam Cutler-Kreutz, and Bryan Burton. But for the feature film, I really need someone with experience in producing feature films to help get us on the right track. We’re confident in ourselves as filmmakers and our ability to tell a story over 90 minutes but the main problem we have right now is finding the right collaborator to produce the feature film. I’ve had a few meetings with production companies to adapt the short film into a feature film but haven’t found the right partner yet. I’m hoping to go into production in 2018 with the feature-film script, which I’ve been working on since 2015.
Written by Sven Mikulec
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